31 pages 1 hour read

Edgar Allan Poe

The Oval Portrait

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1842

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Story Analysis

Analysis: “The Oval Portrait”

“The Oval Portrait” is in many ways typical of Gothic Romanticism. Its premise—that a narrator with mysterious injuries is exploring a room in an abandoned chateau and happens upon a portrait that has an unearthly effect on him—is inherently Gothic and Romantic. The story’s setting, too, is Gothic. It is a deserted mountain chateau of “commingled gloom and grandeur” that the narrator describes as having “bizarre architecture” and decor that, while elaborate and opulent, is falling into ruin (481). The primary location of the story’s action is a turret room in this chateau. This is an isolated and fantastical location within an already isolated and fantastical environment. Throughout, diction, imagery, and detail reinforce the story’s Gothic atmosphere. The turret is “remote” (481), the bed is bordered by “fringed curtains of black velvet” (481), the narrator first sees the oval portrait in “the deep midnight” (481), the painter’s personality is “austere” (483), and the light by which the painter creates the portrait is “ghastly” (483). The story’s plot is also an appropriately morbid one, featuring the untimely and unintentional death of an innocent young woman due to her husband’s obsession with his art.